#295. M. Night Shyamalan

Being a recognizable name in Hollywood is sometimes a double-edged sword. If an actor’s name is recognizable, most people will usually know what type of movie the actor appears in and will either attend or avoid accordingly. The challenge with this is sometimes actors will branch out into different genres, thus making the name recognition a little unreliable. Directors, however, are usually pretty consistent with their genres and styles. While this can help give audiences an indication as to whether or not they’d want to see a movie or not, sometimes a running track record for a director can help them gain ticket sales, especially after a particularly well-received film. Unfortunately, what if a director peaked after their second or third film? This week’s two films will examine the early, successful films of M. Night Shyamalan.

The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

Even though Shyamalan directed two films before The Sixth Sense (1999), neither Praying with Anger (1992) or Wide Awake (1998) gave him the recognition The Sixth Sense did. Consequently, most consider The Sixth Sense to be his “first” film insomuch as it was his breakthrough into Hollywood. While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for six. M. Night Shyamalan could have walked away with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, along with his film winning Best Picture, if it were not for American Beauty (1999). Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has remained a key part of American popular culture, ranking at #89 of the American Film Institute’s latest list of the top 100 films. It is clear from this film; many people had high hopes for the future directorial efforts of M. Night Shyamalan.

Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) finds himself hesitant to continue his job as a child psychologist after a former patient of his claimed Malcom failed him and shot the doctor as a result. However, when Dr. Crowe comes across Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and recognizes many traits of his former patient, he decides it’s time to try again. While the former patient suffered from hallucinations, Cole admits to seeing dead people, even if said dead people don’t realize they’re dead. Through Malcom’s encouragement, Cole helps a young girl obtain closure for her wrongful death. Cole even gains enough confidence to return to school, as well as admit to his mother that his gift has allowed him to communicate with his dead grandmother. Feeling his work with Cole is now complete, Malcom returns home to his wife only to discover that she has moved on from him; the twist comes in revealing why.

Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours

Because of the strong twist ending in The Sixth Sense, people were not surprised when his next film, Unbreakable (2000), had a twist ending as well. In fact, even the film after that, Signs (2002), had a twist for an ending. Some would consider Signs to be his last successful film, as the expectation of a twist ending would haunt his next many films. Critical reception of Shyamalan’s films sharply dropped over the next decade, with such flops as The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013) earning him more Golden Raspberries than Oscar statues. Despite his name being tied to disappointment after disappointment, he eventually found the core of his success again with The Visit (2015) and this year’s Split (2017). Perhaps now we can expect great films from M. Night Shyamalan once again.

In a stroke of what could only be unfortunate luck, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) finds himself the sole survivor of a train wreck that killed every other passenger on board, but left him without a scratch. Through this tragic event, he is sought out by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a collector of rare comic books who was intrigued by David’s survival. Elijah posits the theory that, since he has a rare disease which makes his bones fragile, someone out there must possess the opposite physical flaw. David initially scoffs at Elijah’s hypothesis that he is an indestructible superhero, but once he begins to test this theory, he finds he’s stronger than he ever imagined. Suddenly, incidents from David’s past have deeper meaning. Elijah encourages David to explore some of his superpowers, which eventually leads the hero to learn of the sinister force behind some of the tragic events in his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Shyamalan sensations

Bacon #: 2 (Split (directed) / James McAvoy -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)


#121. Mel Gibson

Many actors have controversial personal lives for a variety of reasons. Off of the screen they may be the violent, alcoholic, drug-addicted, racist, and overall crazy people the tabloids love reporting on, but on-screen they have enough talent to make us forget (albeit sometimes temporarily) of who they are as actual people. Mel Gibson is no exception. Established as an “action hero” with such film series as Mad Max (1980) and Lethal Weapon (1987), Gibson also has talent for other genres including drama in Hamlet (1990), historical in The Patriot (2000), and sci-fi in Signs (2002). But this week’s two films are not about Gibson’s acting career, per sé. While it’s difficult to see someone’s personal life when they’re acting, sometimes when they direct their beliefs emerge. This week’s two films examine Mel Gibson’s directing career.

The Passion of the ChristThe Passion of the Christ
Year: 2004
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes / 2.11 hours

If there’s one thing that American audiences can’t stand, it’s subtitles. As such, it’s curious that Gibson would choose to present the violence of Jesus’ death in a way that would require audiences to read. If they wanted to do that, they’d just go to the Bible. Still, the powerful imagery seems much more alive with period languages being used (even if they probably would have all been speaking Greek anyways). This film was inspired by Gibson’s deep-seated Catholicism and is not meant as a verbatim recreation of the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. It’s more of an artistic interpretation of what had happened, but with the Biblical story set as its foundation. Two years later, Gibson released Apocalypto, another violent film with period language being used in place of English. In fact, both films have given him the niche of filming in dead or ancient languages.

There have been many films about the life of Christ, but few of them focused on the last hours of his life. With some flashbacks to provide background to the story, the brunt of the plot is based on the Stations of the Cross, which covers Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas Iscariot and the resulting trials (both legal and physical) that Jesus had to endure before finally being executed by crucifixion. The entire ordeal is portrayed as an overly violent series of events which has induced criticism of the film, despite the fact that the crucifixion itself is a brutal process. It is granted that the Romans reveled in violence (just think about the gladiators of the Coliseum), so the beatings Christ received might actually be pretty accurate, all things considered. At any rate, Passion ends not with the defeat of the Son of Man, but rather with his victory over death.

Year: 1995
Rating: R
Length: 177 minutes / 2.95 hours

Gibson had been acting for just over fifteen years when he made his directorial debut with The Man Without a Face (1993). And yet, Mel Gibson’s fame as a director didn’t actually come until two years later. In fact, on top of starring in the leading role, Gibson Directed and Produced Braveheart, which ended up winning him two Oscars: Best Director and Best Picture. The remaining three Oscars it won were for more technical merits, but the fact remains that this film cemented Mel Gibson’s status as a director as well as an actor. There’s no denying the cultural significance this film has had on popular culture, with the famous speech by Gibson’s William Wallace being oft quoted for other situations involving freedom. And let’s not forget about that blue war paint! In fact, a rise in Scottish tourism resulted because of the success of this film.

In the late 13th century, the king of Scotland dies and leaves a vacuum of authority with no heir to rise to power in his stead. As a result, King Edward (Patrick McGoohan) conquers the defenseless Scotland and wins the land for England. Because of this coup, William Wallace is sent to Rome to be educated and to be kept safe from the English. While Wallace (Mel Gibson) is gone, things get worse in Scotland, so when he returns to his homeland, he has to marry his childhood sweetheart in secret. Fighting against the injustice the Scots are experiencing on behalf of the British, Wallace gathers up a group of rebels who fight against King Edward in the Battle of Falkirk. And even though they were not victorious, Wallace still holds on to his ideals of freedom, even until his gruesome death. However, just like The Passion of the Christ, the ending of Braveheart shows a greater victory by the Scots.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Gibson epics

Bacon #: 2 (Lethal Weapon / Tom Atkins -> Lemon Sky / Kevin Bacon)